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Sir William Wiseman papers

Call Number: MS 666

Scope and Contents

Sir William George Eden Wiseman, diplomat and liaison between the British government and the Wilson administration, is a figure of particular importance for the student of British-American relations during World War I.

The particular value of the William Wiseman Papers is the light they throw on Wiseman's role in the war. Incorporating correspondence from many prime movers of the British and American governments, Foreign Office memoranda, and a wealth of other materials, the Wiseman Papers thus offer significant resources for the study of World War I and the Paris Peace Conference. Their value is further enhanced by such closely related Yale collections as the Edward M. House Papers (MS 466), the Charles Seymour Papers (MS 441), and the Arthur Willert Papers (MS 720). The Papers also provide information on Wiseman's activities during World War II and his post-war career in investment banking. Wiseman's continuing interest in Anglo-American cooperation is a unifying theme throughout the entire collection.

Yale acquired the Wiseman Papers through two donations, the bulk of the World War I material (amounting to approximately half of the entire collection) as a gift from Sir William Wiseman in 1922, and the remainder from his wife in 1966. The later gift included several files of British military intelligence papers and other material from the First World War which Wiseman had withheld in 1922, World War II material, and business papers of the post-war period.

Although the 1922 donation, which comprises files kept by Wiseman in New York during the war, was heavily used by Charles Seymour in preparing his Intimate Papers of Colonel House and by other scholars, it had not received full arrangement and description by 1966. Further, a new system of organization was required in order to integrate the 1966 donation. In the new arrangement the World War I papers have largely remained under their former headings except for several catch-all categories which have been further sorted and clarified; some correspondence has been moved from subject files to the correspondence section.

The Wiseman Papers are now divided into three series: WORLD WAR I AND THE PARIS PEACE CONFERENCE, WORLD WAR II, and BUSINESS AND PERSONAL.

Series I, the largest and most important segment of the papers, is composed of two sections, "Select Correspondence" and "Subject Files," each arranged alphabetically. Represented in "Select Correspondence" are many British and American government officials and diplomats, as well as other European leaders. Among the most notable are Arthur James Balfour, Bernard M. Baruch, Louis D. Brandeis, Robert Cecil, Edward M. House, Thomas G. Masaryk, Arthur Murray (later Lord Elibank), Lord Northcliffe, Ignace Jan Pederewski, Lord Eustace Percy, and Lord Reading.

The "Subject Files" section contains memoranda, printed matter, and a large number of Foreign Office cables, many but not all of which are duplicated in "Select Correspondence"; some cables and other communiques are found only in "Subject Files." Cross-references are provided only to original letters located in "Subject Files."

Almost half of "Subject Files" is devoted to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919; the contents include a short diary kept by Wiseman from January 17 to February 17, 1919 (folders 178-179) and daily bulletins and other printed matter of the British delegation to the conference, as well as memoranda on a variety of topics discussed at the conference. Another area of special interest is Wiseman's file on Russia, which incorporates a lengthy series of cables and memoranda discussing Allied intervention in Russia in 1917-1918 (folders 225-254) and material on propaganda and intelligence gathering in Russia (folders 255-264). Included is a small amount of correspondence from W. Somerset Maugham and Emanuel V. Voska. Also of particular interest in "Subject Files" are papers from Wiseman's military intelligence work in the United States.

His office was charged with protecting munitions and other British supplies and investigating people suspected of anti-British activities. The files include organizational and financial papers from the New York office and reports from various agents; see folders 159-177. See also the correspondence of Manuel del Campo (folders 17-19) and Norman Thwaites (folders 84-85).

Completing Series I is a detailed card-file subject index (Box 12), compiled under Charles Seymour's tenure as curator of the House Collection. Although box and folder references in this index can no longer be cited in calling for material, the index is still a useful guide since most of the indexed material is filed under the old subject headings.

Series II, WORLD WAR II, is quite small and offers but an incomplete record of Wiseman's intelligence and war-relief activities. Included are correspondence dealing with intelligence matters (folders 4, 12), memoranda and correspondence of the Petroleum (Warfare) Department (folder 9) and Union Jack Clubs (folder 11), and memoranda on such subjects as Anglo-American relations. The material are arranged alphabetically by topic.

In Series III, business and financial papers stemming from Wiseman's partnership with Kuhn, Loeb, and Company make up the bulk of the first two sections ("Select Correspondence" and "General Correspondence," both arranged alphabetically). Wiseman was active in promoting capital investment in underdeveloped countries (e.g. folders 24, 61-64, 79) and exploration and utilization of natural resources, especially energy sources. It was these interests which led to Wiseman's dealings with Caloust Gulbenkian, the multi-millionaire financier and pioneer of petroleum development in the Middle East. Other correspondence in these sections relates to corporations of which Wiseman was an executive (for instance, the United States Rubber Company and Industria Electrica) and of which he was a major stockholder (like Photocolor Process Corporation). The material in these two sections have for the most part been left in the arrangement used by Wiseman's office, with the result that papers relating to a given corporation may include material from correspondents who appear in numerous other files as well, particularly business associates such as John Guest, John Schiff, and Siegmund Warburg.

These two sections also contain papers relating to Wiseman's continuing interest in Anglo-American relations and his philanthropic endeavors; correspondence with Charles Seymour and Lord Reading concerning their books about the First World War, as well as with others studying that period; and a few letters from prominent figures such as Dwight Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson, and Harry Truman. There is also some correspondence from people with whom Wiseman worked during the world wars, including Arthur Murray (Lord Elibank), W. Somerset Maugham, and others. There is little of a personal nature outside of a few letters from friends and from Wiseman's three daughters, Rosemary Hulton, Margaret Rainsford-Hannay, and Sheila Wiseman.

The third section of Series III, "Other Papers," contains a miscellany of writings by Wiseman, personal financial papers, memorabilia, several photographs, and biographical material.


  • 1916-1961


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Sir William Wiseman in 1922 and Lady Joan Wiseman in 1966.


Arranged in three series: I. World War I and the Paris Peace Conference. II. World War II. III. Business and Personal.


9.5 Linear Feet (22 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Papers pertaining to the period 1917-1919 and specifically to diplomatic relations between Britain and the U.S. during that period. Includes correspondence between Wiseman and Edward M. House; official telegrams of the British Foreign Office and of U.S. officials; British and American official and private memoranda on war matters and on problems of the Peace Conference; and reports and correspondence on Russia and on the Zionist movement. Important correspondents include: Gordon Auchincloss, Arthur James Balfour, Winston Churchill, Thomas G. Masaryk, Ignace Jan Paderewski, the Marquis of Reading, Cecil Spring-Rice and William Tyrrell.

Biographical / Historical

Sir William Wiseman (1885-1962): international banker working at Herndon's in London before World War I; during World War I served in the infantry as a lieutenant colonel, then in military intelligence; acted as liaison between British government and Wilson, and as advisor at the Paris Peace Conference; after World War I joined banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. in New York.

Guide to the Sir William Wiseman Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Wilton B. Fowler and Janet E. Gertz
July 1982
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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